Preface to Lyrical Ballads  William Wordsworth  1770–1850 

Turning Rousseau's Romantic philosophy into Art, and elevating Art into Truth.


Essentially reshapes the way everyone thinks of poetry to this day.  Outside of academia, pretty much the entire Western World has adopted this model. 


Key Concepts: 


What is the source of poetry?


"All good poetry is the spontaneous  overflow of human feelings…modified and directed by our thoughts." or "...[the] spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.(1132)


What are the essential elements of Romantic poetry?


1) Language and Style: "the real language of men"


2) Setting:  "incidents and scenes from real life" (compare to Neo Classicism, Renaissance etc.) "with imagination" (poetic license)


3) Content and Imagery:  "ordinary things should be presented…in unusual ways" (making the reader see the common, everyday world as if for the first time, as if a child)


4) Themes and Purpose: "and, above all, tracing in them [these ordinary things]…the primary laws of nature" (which, in this case, are accessed thru experience in the natural world, mitigated by thought (reflection) -- so this is Locke, again, combined with emotion ("spontaneous overflow of human feelings")


5) Geographical Setting: "rustic (country, pastoral…men with sheeps) was generally chosen because in that condition, the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which to attain their maturity, are less under restraint…elementary feelings co-exist in a state of greater simplicity and, consequently, may be more accurately contemplated. (this is mainline Rousseau)


Thus "the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature." ("permanent forms" is from Plato's Platonic Idealism or Forms)


6) Purpose:  "Its object is truth" (not entertainment, not epic stories, not to sing the praises of a king...but essentially an examination of spiritual and philosophical "truths").


7) The Poet: "The poet…is a man speaking to men.": the poet is a Romantic: a visionary. A Seer. He uses imagination and feeling  to access higher truths. (1129)


Unity of beings thru imagination: "it will be the with of the Poet to bring his [own] feelings near to those of the persons whose feelings he describes.  …let him slip into an entire delusion."  TRUTH THRU IMAGINATION AND FEELING AND EMPATHY. (1130)


In short, Wordsworth tells us that poetry: "Its object is truth. Not individual and local, but general…carried alive into the heart by passion. … Poetry is the image of man and nature. … It is an acknowledgment of the beauty of the universe.  …it is a task that is light and easy to him who looks at the world in a spirit of love. (1130)


Relationship to Scientific Knowledge:


"The knowledge both of the Poet and the Man of science is pleasure; but the knowledge of the one cleaves to us as a necessary part of our existence, our natural and unalienable inheritance; the other is a personal and individual acquisition, slow to come to us, and by no habitual and direct sympathy connecting us with our fellow-beings. The Man of science seeks truth as a remote and unknown benefactor; he cherishes and loves it in his solitude: the Poet, singing a song in which all human beings join with him, rejoices in the presence of truth as our visible friend and hourly companion. Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; it is the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all Science."  (1131)



          My heart leaps up when I behold
              A rainbow in the sky:
          So was it when my life began;
          So is it now I am a man;
          So be it when I shall grow old,
              Or let me die!
          The Child is father of the Man;
              I could wish my days to be
          Bound each to each by natural piety.



          UP! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
          Or surely you'll grow double:
          Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
          Why all this toil and trouble?
          The sun, above the mountain's head,
          A freshening lustre mellow
          Through all the long green fields has spread,
          His first sweet evening yellow.
          Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
          Come, hear the woodland linnet,                             10
          How sweet his music! on my life,
          There's more of wisdom in it.
          And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
          He, too, is no mean preacher:
          Come forth into the light of things,
          Let Nature be your teacher.
          She has a world of ready wealth,
          Our minds and hearts to bless--
          Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
          Truth breathed by cheerfulness.                             20
          One impulse from a vernal wood
          May teach you more of man,
          Of moral evil and of good,
          Than all the sages can.
          Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
          Our meddling intellect
          Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--
          We murder to dissect.
          Enough of Science and of Art;
          Close up those barren leaves;                               30
          Come forth, and bring with you a heart
          That watches and receives.


      I GRIEVED for Buonaparte, with a vain
      And an unthinking grief! The tenderest mood
      Of that Man's mind--what can it be? what food
      Fed his first hopes? what knowledge could 'he' gain?
      'Tis not in battles that from youth we train
      The Governor who must be wise and good,
      And temper with the sternness of the brain
      Thoughts motherly, and meek as womanhood.
      Wisdom doth live with children round her knees:
      Books, leisure, perfect freedom, and the talk                   10
      Man holds with week-day man in the hourly walk
      Of the mind's business: these are the degrees
      By which true Sway doth mount; this is the stalk
      True Power doth grow on; and her rights are these.



The Complete Poetical Works: